The atmosphere was electric. The fans were boisterous. They booed, cheered and applauded. They jumped to their feet in excitement. They might have been at a hockey game. Instead, they were caught up in a romantic flashback to the days of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: competitive ballroom dancing. Last month more than 6,000 fans paid up to $ 15 each to attend the World Invitational Ballroom Dancing Championship in Montreal, the first international ballroom dancing event ever to be held in this country. It was an evening of glamour and enchantment. Dressed in white tie and tails and extravagant gowns sparkling with sequins and rhinestones, couples from 12 countries transformed the Velodrome, site of the Olympic cycling events, into a late-show movie set.
Not that the stadium was really such an incongruous setting. Competitive ball-
room dancing is very much an athletic enterprise, similar in technique, performance and judging to ice skating or diving. In Germany, Holland and Denmark, in fact, top couples compete in what is called the sports class. Popular in England since the turn of the century and in Denmark, Germany and Japan since the 1930s, ballroom dancing went out of vogue in North America with the advent of rock ’n’ roll. But there is renewed interest now. Bill Clark, president of the Canadian Amateur Ballroom Dancers’ Association, says his organization has 80,000 members, twice as many as there were 10 years ago.
In Quebec alone there are about 200,000 social ballroom dancers. Frank Regan, artistic director of the international competi-
tion, says ballroom dancing has always been a popular pastime in Quebec, where people have been sheltered by language from the full force of North American fads. “Dancing is something people do here to express themselves. The idea that dancing is for sissies just doesn’t exist.” Consequently, there are just as many men enrolled in dancing classes as there are women—and thousands of threm are young. “Most don’t dance at a competitive level,” he says. “But they can execute all the dances with a reasonable degree of efficiency, be it the cha-cha or tango.”
The dancers compete in two categories: Latin (samba, rumba, cha-cha, paso doble, jive) and modern (waltz, Viennese waltz, slow foxtrot, quickstep, tango). They are judged on rhythm, simultaneous movement, style, body lines and technique. Guy Howard, one of six men and three women
invited to serve as adjudicators, says the tango is an exotic, fascinating dance but also one of the easiest. “The fact that it looks so dramatic makes it appear more difficult than it really is,” he says. “To win a championship, marvelous dancing isn’t enough, great personality isn’t enough. There has to be some magnificent blend of the two.”
This is where ballroom dancing becomes difficult. The woman must feel rhythm as the man feels rhythm, the man must feel movement as the woman feels movement. In Latin American-style dances this unison is not quite as important because contact is made more through the hands than through the body. The ability to move in sympathy to the music rated highest with adjudicator Basil Valvasori of Hamilton, who has judged five world championships. “Body flight is also important,” he says. “If a couple does not exhibit lightness, they’re not likely to be winners.”
Each country was represented at the competition by one couple—except Canada, which as host was entitled to two entries. Helen and Vic RossofToronto represented Canada and Pierre Allaire and Christiane Primeau of Montreal represented Quebec, which ranked as a separate
country on the program. Neither couple made the finals, but both plan to compete in the Ontario Open, to be held in Toronto in January,and the Canadian Closed, to be held in Toronto next April. “It’s not winning that matters to us, it’s taking part,” says Vic Ross, a shipping clerk. “We treat it as a sport and will go on competing strictly for enjoyment.” In their late thirties, the Rosses have been dancing competitively for 13 years and were Canadian amateur champions (Latin category) from 1967 to 1972. They practise constantly—three
hours a day six days a week and all day Sundays. “You really have to love dancing,” says Helen, who danced through four pairs of high heels in the course of the competition. “You must work like a Trojan to perfect your timing and composition. It’s almost like training to be a ballet dancer.” Winners David Sycamore and Denise Weavers of England exhibited a softness and flow in their modern dances and a gaiety in their Latin that made them crowd pleasers from the start. Sycamore, a radio technician, and Weavers, a dressmaker, are only 21 but have been dancing together for seven years. “I love the sensation of
moving,” Sycamore explains. “And the challenge of competing.”
More and more North Americans would seem to agree. The Latin-American beat of the popular hustle and salsa have encouraged a return to touch dancing and in cities such as Los Angeles and New York people are dancing the mambo and even an updated version of the jitterbug. “These days we get very few young people coming in to learn disco,” says Ed Dolan of Toronto’s Arthur Murray dancing studios. “A real feel for dancing with set steps to certain kinds of music is the big move in dancing now.”
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